The Scottish Diaspora and Diaspora Strategy: Insights and Lessons from Ireland

In both Scotland and Ireland sustained attention is now being given to the potential benefits which might flow from renewing and refreshing relationships with overseas diasporic populations. The objective of the report is to contribute to the development of such thinking by identifying and reflecting upon Scotland's approach to its diaspora relative to its Irish counterpart.


6.1 The scale, geography, social structure, and character of diasporic populations play a significant role in shaping their capacity and inclination to connect with the homeland. Prior to the nineteenth century, Scotland had a long history of emigration to Europe, including to Ireland. Between 1821 and 1945, and in waves concentrated particularly in the 1850s, 1870s, early 1900s and the interwar period, over two million migrants left Scotland, more than half to the USA with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand being other important destinations. Following the Second World War and lasting up to the 1990s, Scotland was a country that suffered from brain drain, the 1960s in particular witnessing a net, negative annual migration balance of -40,000. England, and, in particular, the South East became an important destination. Throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries Scotland has played host to Irish (particularly from the 1840s to the 1920s), Jewish and Lithuanian (1890s to 1910), Italian (interwar years), Polish (post war), as well as Pakistani, Indian and Bangladeshi (1960s) migrants. However, since 1990, Scotland has enjoyed a net migrant gain peaking following the accession of Eastern European states to the EU in 2004 at +25,000 (Figure 1). Moreover, in-migrants to Scotland are more likely to be more qualified and skilled than out-migrants, Scotland attracts more students than it exports, and retains the highest proportion of graduates than any region in the UK13.

Figure 1 - Scotland: Key components of population change 1952 to present

Figure 1 - Scotland: Key components of population change 1952 to present

Source: pers. comm. w ith General Register Office for Scotland

Figure 2 - Ireland: Key components of population change 1952 to present

Figure 2 - Ireland: Key components of population change 1952 to present

Source: pers. comm. w ith Central Statistics Office, Dublin

6.2 Migration from Ireland to Europe dates to the missionary and mercenary migrations in the sixth to the fifteenth centuries. From the eighteenth century migration to the new world, principally the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, dominated 14. Between 1700 and 1920 the Irish population (whole island) fell from 8.2 million people to 4.2 million with an estimated three million people emigrating abroad. Included in this stream were the flight of the Scotch-Irish to North America between 1705 and 1776, the famine migrants in the 1840s, and the economic migrants of the period from the 1850s to the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922. In the twentieth century, Ireland has continued to suffer from net migration loss, peaking in the 1950s and 1980s with the United Kingdom emerging as the chief destination region 15. With the country's economic fortunes reversing from 1993, however, Ireland too has witnessed a parallel reversal in its migration fortunes. Between 1991 and 2006 Ireland attracted a net gain of nearly 350,000 migrants, with over half of incoming migrants being returnees (Figure 2).Whilst the largest migrant group remains the British, migrants have come from every continent and broadened Ireland's demographic base significantly. As with Scotland, Ireland has played host to post-accession Eastern European flows, particularly from Poland and Lithuania.

6.3 Table 2 shows key statistics pertinent to the Scottish and Irish diasporas and potential affinity diasporas. It is clear that in spite of their differences, some broad similarities exist between both countries. Both are small European countries; both have approximately one quarter of their existing population living overseas, principally in England; both participated in the great European migrations to the New World and have longer diasporic ties with the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand; from being an exporter of talent both have enjoyed net migrant gains since 1990, albeit Ireland at a greater scale; both have significant populations from the EU accession states; both attract a significant volume of overseas students, with Scotland being more of a magnet; and finally both are significant tourist locations.

Table 2 - Scotland and Ireland's Diaspora and Affinity Diasporas



Population Size

5,144,200 (2007)

4,422,100 (2008)

Net Migration

+20,400 (average annual since 2003)

+43,900 (average annual since 2000)

Scale of Diaspora (native born, overseas)


800,000 Irish born overseas. 3.1 million Irish Citizens (Passport holders) overseas

Geography of Diaspora

800,000 in England, 467,500 non UK16

500,000 in UK, 156,000 in USA, 50,000 in Australia, 22,800 in Canada, 16,000 France, 16,000 Germany, 8,000 Spain

Scale of Wider Diaspora (people claiming ancestry)

28 million to 40 million 17

70 to 80 million

Geography of Wider Diaspora

USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Today 44 million claim to be Irish American, 6 million people in Britain claim Irish ancestry, there are 3.8 million Irish Canadians and 1.9 million Irish Australians 500,000 people in Argentina have Irish ancestry.

Number of Foreign Born Residents

168,142 Scotland residents were born outside of the UK (+34% since 1991; 3.3% compared to 7.5% for the whole of the UK, 2001 census)

419,733 (2006)

Geography of Foreign Born Residents

The largest group was from Germany, followed by Pakistan and the US (2001 census)

A large number of foreign-born residents in 2006 were from the United Kingdom (112,000) Eastern European accession countries (163,227), Asian countries (46,952) and African countries (35,326) (2006 census)

Number of Overseas Students ( UG and PG)

58,095 overseas students (for academic year 2006/07). This figure does not include the 28,290 students from other parts of the UK

25,319 (for academic year 2005/06)

Geography of Overseas Students

In 2006-2007, most non-Scottish students enrolled in a Scottish institution of further education were from England (2,350). Other important groups were from India (1.430) and from other European countries (Italy, Spain, Poland, France)

In 2005-2006, 15,196 overseas students or 57% of the total were from non- EU countries (including India, China, Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea and Thailand)

Tourist Visits (non Scottish/Irish)

9.59 million 6.8 million UK, 2.79 overseas

8.01 million, 4.01 million from the UK, 4 million from non UK/Ireland sources

All data from official government sources unless otherwise stated.

6.4 Where both diasporas would appear to differ most is not in their scale or geography but in their cultural dispositions. Given the cultural characteristics of their respective diaspora, the extent to which Scottish or Irish born migrants and subsequent generations consider themselves to be Scottish or Irish differs. This view was prevalent among both Scottish and Irish interviewees and whilst largely anecdotal would seem to reveal an important truth. In general, Irish-mindedness - the strength of Irish identity and an allegiance or patriotism to Ireland - seems better developed than Scottish-mindedness. This is perhaps most clearly reflected in the number of active Irish diaspora organisations around the world, which number several thousand.

6.5 In the course of undertaking interviews for this project it became evident that there exists a strong belief in Scotland that the Scottish diaspora is less visible and less well organised than the Irish diaspora. There is a belief that migrating Scots were more quickly accepted by the host populations, adopted the identity of regions of destination more readily and assimilated within a single generation. Scots tended to choose to leave to seek a better life elsewhere, rather than migrating because there seemed little other viable option. As a result, Scottish identity and Scottish-mindedness very rapidly dissipated to become a 'historical badge' little worn or displayed except on particular occasions such as St Andrews Day or Tartan Day or Burns Night or during significant sporting occasions. Whilst sharing a Scottish ancestry clearly mattered, the concerns and tribulations of the domestic country proved to be immediately arresting and primary loyalties were more readily redirected from the old to the new homeland.

6.6 In contrast, a commonly held view is that the migrating Irish most often left due to economic necessity or for political reasons. Even when they moved for reasons of self advancement, homesickness, alienation, and an elevated interest in Irish nationalism persisted as a consequence of traditional Gaelic attitudes to migration, which led migrants to justify themselves not as voluntary, ambitious emigrants, but as involuntary, non-responsible 'exiles', compelled to leave home by forces beyond individual control 18. The Irish faced hostility in regions of settlement as a consequence of their race (Celtic), class (poorest of the poor), nationality (Irish), and religion (Catholic). For a time, anti-Irish racism suppressed upward mobility and fuelled a sense of estrangement and cultural difference. With few resources, they often ended up living in the same poor neighbourhoods, forming Irish enclaves where Irish culture was kept alive. In addition, the poor state of Ireland and the political conflict in the North led to the maintenance of direct connections back to the homeland through remittances and political support, the latter of which also helped to keep alive Irish nationalism.

6.7 It is important to note, however, that while the Irish diaspora appears in general to be more coherently organized than the Scottish diaspora, it has varying intensities and forms in different locales given the size of the community and because patriotism, interest and commitment to Ireland vary across time and space. Even in locales where diaspora identities and activities are considered to be strong many people are little if at all involved in the diaspora groups or activities. It should also be noted that until relatively recently the Irish diaspora had largely self-organised itself through organic processes, along with help from the Catholic Church, and the Irish state has traditionally not sought to manage the diaspora in an overly-determined way. The move in recent years to actively engage and support the diaspora through the schemes detailed below is then a relatively new development driven by a concern amongst some Irish commentators that the strength of Irish identity overseas might be on the wane for a number of reasons: the numbers of Irish-born emigrating has dropped markedly reducing first generation stock that tend to be the most active; the political and economic rationale for maintaining ties to Ireland has dissipated given the peace process and Ireland's economic miracle; and the 'greying' of the diaspora community leaders without significant numbers of readily identifiable replacements. That said, Irish-mindedness remains strong and the Irish Government recognises the value in investing in trying to maintain this strength.

6.8 One of the principal differences between Scotland and Ireland then is that Scotland might need to work harder if it is to engage its overseas communities as it cannot rely on the spontaneous self organisation of the diaspora. And yet Scottish-mindedness is essential to any diaspora programme as the Scottish diaspora will only do work for and alongside Scotland over the long-term if they harbour a deep sense of Scottishness and a pride and allegiance to Scotland. It is clear that a whole number of initiatives now underway will play an important role to this end. These include but are not limited to:

Global Scot - a business network connecting highly skilled Scots around the world.

Global Friends of Scotland - a social and community network linking overseas Scots

Homecoming 2009 - a flagship campaign seeking to encourage tourist visits and perhaps a longer term relationship between Scotland and its diaspora.

Tartan Day and Scotland Week - An official day set aside in the United States (and other countries) to celebrate the heritage and legacy of Scottish emigrants; Scotland Week held alongside this to promote links with Scotland.

The central web portal - An official gateway to Scotland serving as a one stop shop for a variety of user groups.

Creative Scotland - an organisation that once established will bededicated to promoting Scottish culture and arts both at home and abroad.

Fresh Talent Initiative and Talent Scotland - Agencies which includes the Relocation Advisory Service established to promote skilled migration, including return migration, to Scotland. website and ScotlandsPeople Resources - The former a VisitScotland tourist promotion web site, the latter a government backed partnership between the General Register Office for Scotland, the National Archives of Scotland and The Court of the Lord Lyon, including a website and the new Scotlands People Centre in Edinburgh, which is a resource for ancestral visitors seeking genealogical research materials.

The Scottish Centre for Diaspora Studies at Edinburgh University - A new research centre serving as a focal point for research on the Scottish diaspora.

6.9 Beyond their instrumental utility, each of these initiatives plays a symbolically important role in heightening awareness of Scotland and Scottishness within the diaspora. There would seem to be a movement underway with a reasonable degree of combined mass. Important initiatives are underway and already are enjoying success. Nevertheless, given the scale of the task at hand it would seem that a more significant ramping up of projects designed to nurture Scottish-mindedness might again be required. Culture and identity building is a long term and complex project and achievements are not easily prerserved or sustained. It is here that the constitutional debate in Scotland, the strength of Scottish cultural identity overseas, and Scotland's diaspora policy all once again intersect. The critical question would appear to be, can the Scottish diaspora be most successfully built up through programmes, activities, and outreach work undertaken with the existing constitutional arrangements or would an independent Scotland provide a stronger set of culture building tools and instruments ?

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